Councils will again be forced to slash their budgets for suicide prevention, reducing teenage pregnancy and tackling alcohol and tobacco dependency after the government announced it would impose a £77 million cut to public health funding next year, on top of a £200 million cut last year.

The Department of Health wrote to councils to say tens of millions of pounds would be cut from public health over the next five years – a 9.6 per cent reduction overall, leaving the budget at £16 billion.

Responsibility for public health was transferred from the NHS to local authorities in April 2013.

Last autumn Chancellor George Osborne announced that £200 million in public health funding would be cut nationwide, leaving Kingston Council with a £650,000 black hole.

Councillor Nick Forbes, vice chairman of the Local Government Association, criticised the government’s decision to “take vital money away” as “extremely counterproductive”.

He said: "Cutting the public health budget is a short-term approach and we are concerned this decision could undermine the objectives we all share to improve the public's health and to keep the pressure off the NHS and adult social care.

"Further reductions to the public health budget reinforce the view that central government sees prevention services as nice-to-do but ultimately non-essential.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “We have shown that we are willing to take tough action to protect the public's health. We're the first country in Europe to legislate for plain packaging of cigarettes, made it illegal to smoke in a car with a child and will be publishing new tobacco and childhood obesity strategies.

“Over the next five years we will invest more than £16 billion in local government public health services, in addition to what the NHS will continue to spend on vaccinations, screening and other preventative interventions – including the world's first national diabetes prevention programme.

“We know this will be challenging but local councils have shown that fantastic results can be achieved whilst making savings.”

Councillor Colin Stears, chairman of the adult social services and health committee at Sutton Council, said: “We’re very disappointed there’s been in-year cuts and it’s continuing for another two years. Prevention for health is the only way forward and it affects the way we try to keep people healthy.

A Surrey County Council spokesman said: “Unfortunately a huge reduction to our funding means We are having to look at making almost £56 million-worth of savings to our public health budget over the next five years in a time where demand for our services is increasing all the time.”

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